I attended my first ever Tableau Conference on Tour last week and it’s safe to say that I was more than a little excited. I love Tableau and now have the obligatory speech bubble photo to prove it! I had heard great things about the conferences from people in the Tableau community on Twitter, from blogs (e.g. Sarah’s blog) and on the Tableau Wannabe Podcast. Emily Kund and Matt Francis were recording the podcast at the event and you can hear several interviews with speakers and sponsors as well as a recap of the event here.
I’ve enjoyed going to Tableau afternoon events in Dublin over the last few years but these aren’t comparable to attending a conference (the annual Tableau Conference in the US is another scale entirely). I attended with two colleagues from Perception Data Consulting, Peter McParland and Emmet McCormack. It was lashing rain the first day which wasn’t ideal given the venue. Being Irish, I got over this fairly quickly and the weather on the second day was rather pleasant. I decided to pull some of my highlights together in order to help me gather my thoughts after the eventful couple of days, and give anyone who hasn’t attended a conference a flavour of what to expect.
Top 7 Highlights
1. Keynote Presentations
There were three key note presentations which were all inspirational in different ways:
- James Eiloart is Senior Vice President of EMEA Sales at Tableau. He delivered the morning keynote on the 6th June and took a look back in time at the challenges we have faced exploring uncharted territories. He looked at how curiosity is a motivating factor in data-driven discovery and emphasised that, when combined with collaboration, it can be transformative. He introduced Jeff Berson from Path. Path are doing magnificent work, managing the collection of data and trying to fight the spread of malaria in Zambia, among other projects. They are leveraging analytics using Tableau and other tools with support from people in the community.
- In the afternoon, Tableau Chief Development Officer Andrew Beers spoke about the power of self-service analytics, Tableau’s strategy and how the features being continually added align to the vision. He performed slick demos of some of the notable features which arrived in Tableau 10.2 and 10.3, and talked about what we can expect to see late 2017 – early 2018.
- On the morning of the 7th June David Spiegelhalter, who is Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge, gave a refreshingly witty presentation providing lots of examples of dubious data visualisations that we encounter in mainstream media. He talked about trust and recommended the Ted Talk by Onora O’Neill on the subject. There were some really great takeaway points:
2. Meeting people
I got chatting to several people from the Tableau community whom I recognised from Twitter, Tableau Public and from participating in Makeover Monday. There was a live session on the Monday which I couldn’t make as I flew in too late but it can be seen here. It was great to meet the organisers, Zen Master Andy Kriebel from the Information Lab and Tableau Evangelist Eva Murray from Exasol. I also got talking to some of the other sponsors (Alteryx and Interworks) which was really interesting and of course a number of lovely Tableau people and customers.
3. A Strategic Framework for Data Visualisation – Ryan Sleeper
Ryan Sleeper is a Zen Master, former Iron Viz champion and author of Practical Tableau. He gave a great presentation covering pre-attentive attributes, best practice and design tips as well as some advice on data preparation. He showed a nice selection of slides demonstrating how a table can be transformed into a visual representation that allows us gain insights much faster. Ryan highlighted some key benefits of data visualisation:
4. Data Prep for Time-based Analysis – Bethany Lyons
This session was recommended to me by Charlie Hutcheson and I was really glad I attended. I had previously decided to attend another session which I thought might be more applicable to me but this turned out to be a great choice. Bethany Lyons is Product Consultant with Tableau and she gave a really engaging presentation that was both educational and inspirational in equal measure. She talked about the concept of knowing when to look outside your data if it can’t provide you with the answer you’re looking for. She highlighted some scenarios where you need to generate new data from what you have and demonstrated how this can be achieved in Tableau. I’m hoping to get the workbooks as the session moved quite quickly and it would be useful to go back over the detail.
5. The Visual Design Tricks Behind Great Dashboards – Andy Cotgreave
Andy Cotgreave is Technical Evangelist at Tableau. He was involved in Makeover Monday when I started participating in 2016. I recently bought the book he co-authored, entitled The Big Book of Dashboards, and was sure it would be worthwhile attending his presentation. You can’t help but be enthused by the passion Andy has for Tableau and data visualisation in general. Dashboard design is of particular interest to me. I’m always keen to hear opinions on what works and doesn’t work and the thought process involved. He spoke about the three levels of processing; visceral, behavioural and reflective. He showed examples of several different dashboards, discussing framing and emphasising the importance of including signifiers to guide users so that they know how they can interact with dashboards. He showed us a collection of books he has accumulated and called out two in particular:
- The Design of Everyday Things by Donal A. Norman
- Universal Principles of Design by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden & Jill Butler
6. Iron Viz Championship
I was delighted when I heard that the Iron Viz Championship was making its way to Europe for the first time. I was really looking forward to this part of the conference and it didn’t disappoint. The atmosphere was electric as people waited in anticipation for the contestants to come on stage. The three contestants were Jonathan Trajkovic, Athan Mavrantonis and David Pires who had all been selected from the feeder contest. They received the data-set a day or two before the conference started, so didn’t have much time to analyse the data and decide on an approach. They then had to stand up on stage in front of an audience of 1000+ people to create visualisations in 20 minutes. The three judges were Andy Cotgreave, Eva Murray and Andrew Beers who were tasked with judging each viz based on visual design, the strength of the story and analysis and visual best practice.
The hosts Sophie Sparkes and Louis Archer gave an engaging and humorous commentary throughout. The clock started and the large screens displayed the contestants dragging and dropping at the speed of light, furiously creating complex calculated fields, formatting the views and adding text to their visualisations. Meanwhile Sophie and Louis were talking to the judges, the sous-vizzers (assistants) and keeping us entertained. What the contestants managed to achieve in 20 minutes was really impressive, especially given the potential sources of distraction around them. They even managed an odd smile despite the obvious nerves. The winner on the day was David Pires who created a beautifully polished visualisation which can be found on his Tableau Public page here, alongside the visualisation that got him there.
7. Viz gallery
In one room at the venue hung a series of visualisations from Tableau Public which had been printed out and they really looked impressive. You can see a random selection below which were created by Neil Richards (left), Zen Master Pooja Gandhi (top right) and Mike Cizneros (bottom right).
I went to a few other great sessions but the above were definitely the highlights for me. I’m sure I missed loads of other cool things but there was a bit of sensory overload at the start and by the time I got my bearings it was all coming to an end. To sum up – if you’re a passionate Tableau user (is there any other kind I hear you asking!) then I think an event like this is great for so many reasons. I gained a lot and will hopefully continue to be inspired as I dip back into my notes over the coming weeks and months. One regret is that despite the fact that there were a number of sessions on LOD (level of detail) calculations I managed to miss them, and I heard they were great. I got severe cases of FOMO (fear of missing out) when committing to sessions because there were often two or three that I was interested in. You can never be sure what to expect unless you’ve received a recommendation or know the speaker, so you have to roll the dice. On a couple of occasions I missed out because a session was full, with one session fully subscribed nearly half an hour before it was due to start. So if you really want to attend a session then give yourself plenty of time. One final tip, if you like good coffee then also schedule some time in for queuing. We all know how vital coffee can be, especially after the data night out!
That’s it from me! Thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment.